Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Celebrating Christmas?

In my church culture growing up (and even recently in a Wednesday evening sermonette), it has been stressed that Christmas is not to be celebrated by Christians as a Holy Day, as it's not Biblically authorized, coming instead from a mingling of pagan celebrations and Catholic traditions.

Okay, if you don't want to celebrate Christmas in honor of Jesus' birth, I have no problem with that. Romans 14 makes it clear that people are going to come to different conclusions about such matters:
HCSB Rom 14:5 One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 Whoever observes the day, observes it to the Lord. Whoever eats, eats to the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is to the Lord that he does not eat, yet he thanks God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
Paul continues that we should not offend one another in these issues, and that we are to get along, not looking down on one another over "doubtful issues" (v.1), saying that each of God's servants stands or falls before the Lord, not before us criticizers (v. 4), and that "stand he will! For the Lord is able to make him stand" (v. 4).

He finishes up this chapter with:
21 It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble. 22 Do you have faith? Keep it to yourself before God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and everything that is not from faith is sin.
This last line is often paired with Romans 10:17 ("faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God") to conclude that anything we do in a religious sense must be authorized by the written Word of God, but I believe that's mixing two different "faith" definitions. The Romans 10:17 faith is a faith that brings us into a saved relationship with Jesus; the Romans 14:23 faith is a confidence that we are not condemning ourselves by what we approve (v. 22), specifically in the realm of disputable matters such as eating of certain meets or observing certain holidays, etc, which Paul plainly states is okay either way so long as it's done in honor of the Lord.

Now, one final point:
HCSB Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, "Don't be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a manger."
The written word of God said that the birth of Jesus is good news of great joy for all people. Then these angels broke out in joyous praise, followed by a party-attitude of the shepherds, the old man Simeon, and the old woman Anna. Should we not also be allowed to have a party-attitude about the birth of Jesus?

If so, when? Every day? Once a month? Once a year? Twice in a lifetime? How often, and when, does the Scripture tell us to celebrate the birth of Jesus?

It doesn't.

But it does tell us that his birth is worth celebrating, for all the people, not just for those immediately involved. It seems to me that the frequency and timing has been left up to us.

But if you don't want to, that's between you and God, as Romans 14 says. On the other hand, if you do want to, that's between you and God, as Romans 14 says.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

1 Corinthians 16:1-2

HCSB 1 Corinthians 16:1 Now about the collection for the saints: you should do the same as I instructed the Galatian churches. 2 On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save to the extent that he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come.

What the Bible Says

What We Claim

Addressed to the churches of Galatia and Corinth (v. 1) (and presumably Macedonia - 2 Cor 8:1)

Addressed to all churches

Not a command (2 Cor 8:8)

A command

For the specific purpose of financially helping the saints who were in poverty (v. 1; 2 Cor 8:14)

Mostly used for institutional purposes rather than personal financial relief of the saints

Had a definite completion (2 Cor 8:10-11)


HCSB 2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia.... 3 I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability, 4 they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints.... 6 So we urged Titus that, just as he had begun, so he should also complete this grace to you.... 8 I am not saying this as a command. Rather, by means of the diligence of others, I am testing the genuineness of your love. ... 10 Now I am giving an opinion on this because it is profitable for you, who a year ago began not only to do something but also to desire it. ... 11 But now finish the task as well, that just as there was eagerness to desire it, so there may also be a completion from what you have. ... 13 It is not that there may be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality — 14 at the present time your surplus is [available] for their need, so that their abundance may also become [available] for your need, that there may be equality. ... 18 With [Titus] we have sent the brother [who] was also appointed by the churches to accompany us with this gift that is being administered by us, ... taking this precaution so no one can find fault with us concerning this large sum administered by us.

So what's the point? We should not be making the claim that "We are commanded in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 to give every first day of the week...".

Use it as an example. Make inferences if you like. But don't claim that it's a command to us for an on-going practice of paying the church mortgage and staff salaries.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Role Reversal

At the end of Mark 1 we learn about a leper who met Jesus. Being a leper, he had to stay out of town, far away from people and civilization.

Jesus, going from town to town to teach and heal, meets this leper, and heals him, telling him to keep quiet about it.

Yet the former leper doesn't keep quiet; he goes and tells everyone, so that Jesus is no longer able to openly enter any town lest he be mobbed by the crowds. Instead, he has to stay out in the wilderness.

Before the healing, Jesus went all over, while the leper had to stay in the desert, away from the towns.

After the healing, their roles were reversed, the leper went all over, while Jesus had to stay in the desert, away from the towns.

Thanks to Daniel Egan (http://tinyurl.com/74k8lyj) for this insight.

Hershey's Chocolate Air Delight Kisses

Mmm, the TV advert makes them seem so wonderful; let me go spend my money to buy half the chocolate at the same price.

Oh, wait. Half the chocolate? For the same taste? And the same price? Am I being manipulated by marketing?

Well, if I were to buy this product, yes, yes I would be. But I'm not falling for it.

Marketers. Pfft.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Surprising Realizations

* The Bible does not say that Jesus fell while carrying the cross.

* Abraham's wife, Sarah, was protected from the sexual advances of Abimelech. Why aren't other women so protected? Perhaps because it was important that Sarah be the mate of only Abraham in order to be the mother of The Promise?

* The popular song says, "We bow down, and we crown you the king", but really, there is no scriptural indication of anyone but God ever crowning Jesus as king. Humanly-speaking, we can crown him king of our own lives, but it's not a scriptural phraseology.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Israel Couldn't Sing, So They Put Away Their Instruments

Wow! I've never noticed this before.
HCSB Psalm 137:1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and wept
when we remembered Zion.

2 There we hung up our lyres
on the poplar trees,

3 for our captors there asked us for songs,
and our tormentors, for rejoicing:
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion."

4 How can we sing the LORD's song
on foreign soil?

I'm familiar with the idea that the synagogue assembly arose during the time of the Exile, with verse 2 above indicating that non-Temple singing became non-instrumental at this time. But when I read this for what it says, rather than for what I'm looking for, I see something I've never seen before.

The captors asked the Israelites to sing songs of Zion, but they were too broken-hearted to do so, so they put away their instruments.

Notice that they did not put away their instruments and then sing non-instrumentally. They put away their instruments because they couldn't sing. Had they been able to sing, they would not have put away their instruments.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wives, Submit to Your Husbands

HCSB Eph 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord...
All my life this has been interpreted for me to mean that wives were to be submissive to their husbands. And that is true, in context.

Look at the previous verse:
21 submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
So we are all told to submit to one another, but then wives are singled out as needing to be submissive to their husbands. Why? Is it because women need more instruction than men in being submissive to one another?

Let's look at one more aspect of the context. This letter was written to the people in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus, as you'll recall from Acts 19 (and from extra-Biblical history), was the headquarters of the cult of Diana/Artemis. This was a matriarchal town, in which the women were the priests; the women were the government officials; the women wore the pants in the home. These women who were converting to Jesus had spent their entire lives believing that women were to be in charge.

Paul was telling these Ephesians to submit to one another, and emphasizing to the women that the Christian culture was different than that to which they were accustomed, and to stop lording it over the men.

This background may also have bearing on the instructions written to Timothy, who was the church leader in Ephesus at the time (1 Tim 1:3):
HCSB 1 Tim 2:11 A woman should learn in silence with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Humming As Communication

It's been said that humming does not communicate, as does actual speech.

I disagree. It may usually communicate nothing, but if I hum the tune to "Amazing Grace" (or the theme from "The Flinstones"), that will put ideas and images and even words into your head.

Granted, that communication is dependent on a shared culture, and so does not communicate new information the way speech is able to do, but humming is not always or entirely void of communicative value.

Just an observation.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Citing Uninspired Text as Inspired

Reading through the Biblical book of Job, I had a thought.

Most of the book relates the back-and-forth arguments between four people. These arguments often contain tidbits that strike us as wise or true, and we might be tempted to quote these tidbits as God-inspired Truth. For example:

HCSB Job 18:18 He is driven from light to darkness and chased from the inhabited world. ...21 Indeed, such is the dwelling of the wicked, and this is the place of the one who does not know God.
But the gist of the whole book is that these men don't know what they're talking about; they're humans, grappling with the issue of evil in the world, trying to make sense of it. But in the end it's revealed that they simply don't have the answers.

So when we quote these passages as God-given Truth, we're making a mistake. We're quoting fallible humans who don't know what they're talking about, and calling it God's message. This is not God's message to us, but rather Man's guesswork.

We do the same thing with the healed man in John 9; we cite his statement that "God doesn't listen to sinners" (v. 31) as if this is a truth from God. It may indeed be true, but it's a message from a mere uninspired man; we should not quote it as an inspired message from God.

Likewise, even though we know the centurion at the cross spoke truth when he stated that Jesus really was the Son of God (Mark 15:39), we should not cite him as an inspired speaker of God's word.

Obvious examples could also be given, such as when the Assyrians came against Jerusalem and said that Israel's God could not save them from the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:9-13). We know not to cite this passage as inspired Truth, for whereas we know it's true that the words were spoken, we also know the words that were spoken were not true.

The problem is that when we find something we want to be true, we're willing to cite it as God-inspired Truth, even if it, like the obvious non-truth above, is uttered by a non-inspired speaker.

Conclusion: Just because the text is recorded in the Bible by inspiration, that doesn't mean the text is inspired Truth, and we should not cite it as such.